Stretch (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Stretch (2014)

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Stretch, a limo driver, is fighting for a reason to live another day.  His girlfriend dumped him, no one is interested in his acting, and local toughs demand he pay the rest of his $6,000 loan by midnight.  To make matters worse, an eccentric billionaire parachutes onto Stretch's limo, demands drugs, and sends Stretch on a trip through the hell of the city.  Will Stretch survive?  Joe Carnahan writes and directs Stretch, starring Patrick Wilson and Chris Pine.

Killing me slowlyI can’t speak to the thought process that Universal Pictures employed when they decided to unceremoniously remove Stretch from their slate of March releases. Those are the months that scream for a movie as unhinged and well-crafted as Stretch. March is the end of a long, cold, boring period where studios release their C-list products for those brave enough to still venture out. Stretch is an unapologetic B-film, campy and delirious to its pulpy core, and could have secured the kind of audience A-list pictures get in the summer. Instead, Stretch got dumped on the internet, and is already available to watch with a Netflix subscription.

Whatever displeasure I have toward the way Universal Pictures released Stretch, I am grateful for the opportunity to watch anything Joe Carnahan touches. Carnahan, from his first film Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane to today, remains a storyteller who works in a masculine realm. This has the potential to introduce troubling elements into his stories, but he always works with the weaknesses of the approach as well as the strengths. After all, would The Grey have been as effective if the big and tough protagonists were squaring off against similar goons? No, and watching their masculinity fail in the face of certain death is what helped make The Grey one of the greatest films of the last decade.

Stretch shows that Carnahan is trading off dark comedies and dramas in a similar way to the Coen brothers. Carnahan’s dark and gritty Narc was followed by the freewheelin’ Smokin’ Aces, with both sharing a loose temporal hold on their plots. As Stretch follows The Grey, it is much more light-hearted but also shares some of the same storytelling DNA. The Grey settled on unavoidable death as the obstacle of unchecked masculinity, and now Stretch pulls the id of masculinity onscreen as the antagonist in a sadomasochistic avatar of desire.

Chris Pine is the proud antichrist of Stretch.

Chris Pine is the proud antichrist of Stretch.

The form that this avatar took shocked me. Chris Pine, who I’ve enjoyed in films but never been won over by, is unhinged and, most importantly, unpredictable in his role as Karos. Carnahan writes Karos as an uncaring beast in search of his next fix and able to exploit any insecurity he comes across. It might have been obnoxious, and with a name so close to chaos it could have been an unbearable character, but Pine owns ever hedonistic second of Karos’ screentime. He dons a beard that looks like Howard Hughes was struck by lightning, bashes himself in the face when he needs a psychological jolt, and parachutes in to the film with his scrotum on full display to the weak-willed Stretch (Patrick Wilson). There’s no mistaking who the alpha dog of Stretch is.

But Carnahan’s screenplay doesn’t let Karos run wild with the plot, he’s too smart a writer for that. Instead, Stretch is about competing ideas of masculinity when taken to their absolute limit. Karos is top dog, Stretch barely registers at first, and a litany of excellent supporting stars pick up different ideas. There’s Karl, brilliantly played by Ed Helms as a sort of hyper-critical man who knows he’s stuck in middling administrative work, who bases his masculinity on doing a job well. As a counterpoint to Karl there’s a valet named Manny (Jason Mantzoukas), who expresses his dominance by being as sarcastic and lazy as he can. My favorite is the Samoan truck driver played by Kaleti Williams, who lets his muscles and thick accent express his manliness.

Once Carnahan’s assembled the pieces he runs them through an absolute hell of kinetic energy. Nothing stays static in Stretch for long. A wide-angle crane shot of a burning street jumps straight into a grainy hand-held digital shot. Colors fluctuate in primary cycles, bathing Karos in red before allowing Stretch a quiet moment of green to himself. These techniques keep the visual battlefield as fluid as the phallic one. The shots help enforce each participants weapon, be it the harsh white light on Karl’s face as he belittles Stretch, or the close shots emphasizing the Samoan’s size. If the battlefield could change at any instant, Carnahan’s camera needed to be doing the same.

Patrick Wilson is great at examining the creepy underside of everyman, and Stretch affords Wilson many opportunities to play with the darkness.

Patrick Wilson is great at bringing out the underside of the everyman, and Stretch has Wilson play with the darkness in many ways.

What further distinguishes Stretch from other edgy comedies is the lunacy of the finer details. Karl is a dissatisfied and angry manager, but he’s also a spirit who haunts Stretch because the pressure of maintaining business perfection drove him to stick a gun in his mouth. Characters who get one scene, like the greeter at an exclusive party, have odd details like a gimp mask whose eyes go from red to green when the little man licks money. Even the main characters, brash as they are, have little details that speak to their tastes – like Karos tiny stuffed tiger backpack he wears everywhere. Carnahan gives everyone dialogue that’s vulgar, acidic, and hilarious. Stretch says that Karl’s, “…wearing a mustache that he said he grew in Hell,” or how Karos picks his women because, “things she can do with her mouth and throat will have you thinking her ancestors f***ed a python at one point.”

What I have trouble believing, but Carnahan pulls it off, is despite the unchecked male egos battling it out Stretch never devolves into outright sexism. Those women that Karos talks about are equal partners in his freakish game, and some of Stretch’s creepier behavior is rightly criticized as self-defeating and pathetic. The biggest surprise is the sweet end Stretch ends on thanks to work from Jessica Alba, who gives her best work to date. When she’s not solely a sex object for a film she can turn in a great sardonic, but sweet, performance. Patrick Wilson, who threatens to be overwhelmed by the big characters around him, reminds us how capable a performer he is as well. He can turn from everyman to frothing madman and take a stop at being an ominous authority figure right before going back to being innocuous.

Stretch shows how versatile Carnahan is. When he’s not making films dealing with big ideas in a fantastic and cinematic way, he’s making intense comedies written and directed to the absolute limit of comprehensible storytelling. No matter what fresh hell Stretch wanders into there’s never a question about his motivations, where he is, or what abstract ideas of masculinity are in combat. Stretch is insane, sometimes a bit much, and damn near perfect.

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Tail - StretchStretch (2014)

Screenplay written and directed by Joe Carnahan.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Chris Pine, Jessica Alba, and Ed Helms.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I am glad you recommended this film. I loved it and was glad Carnahan has another gem is his library.

    • When Ed Helms put the gun in his mouth, I was shocked and completely hooked. Then the subtitles for “Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!” floated by the Samoan’s head and I knew I was in love.

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